2021 NBA All-Star Night delivers memorable highlights for a good cause

Declan McDaniels

In a jam-packed season shortened by 10 games due to COVID-19, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Basketball Players Organization (NBPA) decided to carry out the 2021 All-Star Game on March 7th in Atlanta, Georgia. The NBA announced it was providing more than $3 million in support of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and communities of color impacted by COVID-19. In addition to the All-Star Game, multiple contests were held on the same night: the Skills Challenge, 3-Point Contest and Dunk Contest.

The night kicked off with the Skills Challenge, which tests the players ability to perform a sequence of basketball skills such as passing a ball through a small hole, dribbling and shooting. This year’s competition came down to a shootout at the 3-point line between two big men, as Domantas Sabonis of the Pacers narrowly beat Nikola Vuecevic of the Magic in the final round with a game winning three. 

Stephen Curry won his second career 3-Point Contest after he scored 28 points in the final round to beat Mike Conley (Courtesy of Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)

Following this event was the 3-Point Contest, which consists of five racks spread across the 3-point line, each holding five basketballs for the contestant to shoot. Each player can choose a rack to be their “moneyball” rack, where a made shot is worth two points instead of one, and there are also two balls placed an additional six feet behind the three-point line that are worth three points. In the sixth appearance of his career, Stephen Curry was the clear favorite entering the contest amid an MVP caliber season for the Warriors. In the first round, Curry dominated with 31 points, advancing to the final round alongside fellow shooters Jayson Tatum and Mike Conley. In the final round, Curry topped Conley’s 27 points with the last shot of the contest, scoring 28 points for his second 3-Point Contest win in his career. 

“This one goes out to Klay Thompson,” Curry said via the Warriors Instagram after his win. Thompson is sitting out his second consecutive season due to injury after tearing his achilles, and Warriors fans all across the Bay Area and Redwood are eager to see him back on the court.

LeBron James and Kevin Durant drafted their teams from a pool of the top 24 players in the league, 12 from each conference. (Courtesy of the National Basketball Association)

The main event was the All-Star Game, played by the top 24 players in the league, selected by the votes of fans, players and media. The two top voted players, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, became team captains. However, Durant was unable to play due to injury and was replaced in the starting lineup by Jason Tatum. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were also late inactives on their rosters after coming in close contact with a barber who tested positive for COVID-19. The game was fast paced and exciting, full of flashy plays by both teams. This year’s All-Star Game followed the same format that was first introduced last year. The first three quarters of the game were the standard 12 minutes and the winning team of each quarter was awarded $150,000 to donate to an organization that provides scholarship funding for students attending HBCUs. Each organization received an initial donation of $500,000. The fourth quarter wasn’t timed and instead had a target score that was 24 points above the leading team’s score at the beginning of the quarter. This is a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant, who wore the number 24 for the last nine years of his career on the Lakers.

Playing on the same team for the first time in their careers, Stephen Curry and LeBron James helped carry Team LeBron to a victory over Team Durant. (Courtesy of Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Team LeBron led the first half of the game 100-80, winning both quarters and donating $300,000 to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Curry made seven threes in the first half for Team LeBron, one of which included his signature 180 degree spin before the shot went in. The half ended with half court threes on back to back possessions from Curry and Damian Lillard, showing off their range and reinforcing their status as two of the best shooters in the league. 

At halftime, Anfernee Simons, Obi Toppin and Cassius Stanley participated in the Slam Dunk Contest. While all three players performed some exciting dunks, the highest score came from Simons, who imitated Tracy McGrady’s dunk from the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest while wearing his jersey. Simons and Toppin advanced to the final round, and the contest finished with Simons attempting to kiss the rim mid-dunk, sealing his win with a 3-2 choice from the judges. While dunk contests in recent years have been very memorable, many fans, such as Lakers legend Magic Johnson, thought this year’s contest was boring. 

 “TBH this wasn’t the most exciting Slam Dunk Competition I’ve ever seen,” Johnson tweeted on Sunday.

The final score was 170-150, with Team LeBron winning both the third quarter and the game, adding an additional $450,000 to the donations. Giannis Antetokounmpo walked away with the All-Star Game MVP, scoring 35 points on a perfect 16-16 shooting. While the rescheduling of the All-Star Game brought some initial criticism from players, like James, who have had limited breaks since last season’s playoffs, charitable donations and a thrilling game for the fans made for a successful night.